Chemistry Lessons

With the threat of recession, it makes sense that those people at the frontline of the business pitch put even more effort into winning. And that often involves bringing in someone to finetune those presentation skills.

Depending on how much you want to spend, there is now a plethora of business presentation trainers out there clamouring to sell you their services from a few hundred up to several thousand pounds a day. Indeed, the British are finally on the “cusp of a training culture”, according to Australian training consultant Juliet Erickson, managing director of Rogen International UK, which opened in London last year.

Anyone can be taught how to speak properly, stand nicely without jiggling loose change in their pockets, look at who they’re talking to and remember to breathe occasionally. But there is such a thing as overdoing the skills and killing the event. Stories abound of clients who have seen the pitch, admired the acting, taken in the power point and become totally confused as to where the real person is behind that award winning performance. Or was it a pitch?

It is a sales truism that people buy from people. Too many obvious presentation skills can get in the way of straightforward chemistry and that essential relationship that should be developing between the two sides who intend to work together.

A key problem in business presentation training, says Michael Bland, author and trainer, is that too many trainers try to teach their delegates to perform rather than to communicate. Then there is the bogey- man – technology. Bland bemoans the advent of technological toys and believes that the more toys business managers are given to play with, the worse their actual communication skills become.

So how does anyone who has to make a pitch manage to balance a skilful presentation without losing that essential ingredient – personal chemistry?

Rogen International recently carried out a survey on how and why advertising agencies win pitches. The results show that agencies are generally taken on for four main reasons – each of which can be powerful enough in its own right to determine who wins.

In 40 per cent of cases, one agency triumphed because it had the best solution; in 20 per cent, the agency proved it understood the client’s business best; another 20 per cent of appointments were based on politics; and the final 20 per cent of agencies won because the chemistry was right.

“The lesson from this survey,” says Rogen’s Erickson, “is that anyone pitching for business needs to cover all areas – not just one aspect at the expense of the other three. You can have the best creative solution, but if the client doesn’t like you, you lose.”

Training styles have changed considerably, as Bland has observed, from the Sixties when the emphasis was on acting techniques and voice projection to a more natural approach to presenting your case. But not everyone has adopted the softer, less stagey line.

Raymond Rudd of Raymond Rudd Consultants, who has trained speakers in the advertising industry, refers to the cloning method: “There are still some trainers, many of them broadcasters and actors, who try to get people to do things they can’t. I have found myself retraining a lot of people who say they are simply relieved to be themselves and not have to take on other people’s traits.”

He believes that personal chemistry is important in a pitch. “Clients will only listen provided the chemistry is right. Presenters need to put their message across using their own natural personalities – adjusting them according to the types of personalities they are pitching to.”

Rudd describes this as recognising other people’s personality types or “control modes”. He explains: “You may be dealing with someone with a thoughtful, sensitive or emotional personality.

I always advise clients to find out what type of person they are talking to before the pitch. Try to meet them beforehand or, failing that, glean what you can about their personalities from the telephone.”

Selecting the right tone to suit the personalities of those you are meeting should also be an indicator as to how to select your pitch team. This is an area that Simon Rhind Tutt, managing director of the Tutt Consultancy, believes is somewhat neglected. “It is surprising how little thought agencies put into selecting the right team,” he says.

“Too often it is a combination of who we’ve got available, who is the brightest person we can field, or who has the time, rather than who is going to gel with the client and get the most out of the relationship.”

The Tutt Consultancy’s experience has also shown that people buy from people they like. Rhind Tutt explains: “We work with agencies on how they should sell themselves and we’ve spoken to numerous clients about why they haven’t taken on a specific agency. A major factor in not getting the business is personal chemistry. Very often it is a photo-finish but the runners-up are separated by nothing more than the chemistry. Agencies really should think carefully about who they put onto a piece of business. We call this casting.”

There are other aspects to pitching that should not be ignored. It helps to examine the content of what you are presenting and try not to bore clients into submission. “For many people, presenting is just a matter of downloading masses of information to a potential client,” says Clare Willis, senior consultant with business presentation trainers SpeakEasy.

“We always encourage the pitching team to see things from the client’s perspective. You can make yourself more appealing by showing that you have thought about them. You can’t win them all, but you can always use the experience for another occasion.”

Then there is the matter of how you present. Paul Hargreaves, independent trainer and actor, is aware of what he regards as the much maligned reputation that theatricals have in the training industry. But he is convinced that the actor-as-trainer really does have an important part to play in the business arena. “You need to have the skills to know how the voice works – and what prevents it from working.”

Nervousness, Hargreaves points out, can adversely affect a presenter’s performance. He and his ilk have the knowledge to show the presenter how to avoid pitfalls such as these. “Actors have to be able to read and interpret situations – they have to be aware of their audience. Business people need to be aware of their audiences too – and that’s why they need help from people like me.”

So much for the advice from the experts. What about the industry players? Is the advice being put into practice and does it work? Internet consultancy the Presentation Company, claims to win 70 per cent of its business pitches and also helps to put pitches together for others, in some cases working for a win-only fee.

“We select very carefully what we go for in the first place, and then it is down to having a good relationship with the people you are pitching to,” says deputy managing director Philip Redding.

Redding believes that an important part of pitching is engineering opportunities to communicate with the potential client beforehand. This will give you the chance to field the most suitable team and check the brief. “If we pitch to a local education authority from the north of England, we may put up someone who has all the skills and is a northerner. You fit like to like. It is not rocket science.”

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